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February 26, 2013

WBB: Top-four finish still possible, but unlikely



South Carolina continues to get help in its quest to clinch a top-four finish in the SEC. The No. 14 Gamecocks are just hoping the surprises keep coming.

USC beat Mississippi State as expected on Sunday, improving to 10-4 in the league, then received some wonderful news. Kentucky and Texas A&M each lost, dropping each to 11-3, which is tied with Georgia for second place in the SEC.

There are two regular-season games left to play for every team in the league, which will determine SEC tournament seeding. The Gamecocks can do no worse than a fifth-seed finish, meaning they'll be exempt from playing in the first day of the tournament, but they're only one game out of a top-four finish, which would mean being exempt from the second day as well.

USC knew as soon as it lost to Texas A&M and then Kentucky that the top-four seed was probably a pipe dream. It most likely still is, considering what has to happen for the Gamecocks to get into a top finish.

But Kentucky and A&M each unexpectedly lost, giving USC a breath of life, and if the Gamecocks got one breath, who's to say that they can't get another?

Dawn Staley was gung-ho for the possibility before the Kentucky and A&M losses, but seemed resigned to the team's fate on Sunday. After saying two weeks ago that she talked to the Gamecocks about how close they were to a top-four, she reversed course.

"At this point, no, I don't talk about it anymore," Staley said. "I think as a coaching staff, we look at it and we see it is what it is, at this point. We don't control our own destiny. We do control what we control, which is whether we win or lose basketball games. So we're going to really concentrate on practicing the way we need to practice and get ourselves ready for postseason play."

Yet, the possibility exists. What has to happen for USC to finish in the top four:

* The Gamecocks need to win their final two games, at Missouri on Thursday and hosting Florida on Sunday. That makes them 12-4 for the season.

* They need Georgia, Kentucky or Texas A&M to lose out. That would eliminate any tiebreakers, provided USC wins its last two games, and make one of those teams 11-5, pushing USC into the top four. The Lady Bulldogs are at Mississippi State and host Vanderbilt; the Wildcats are at Ole Miss and host Tennessee; the Aggies are at Tennessee and host LSU.

* If Georgia, Kentucky or Texas A&M all win one of their remaining two games, it will eliminate USC from top-four contention. The best USC can finish is 12-4; if each of those wins one game, the worst they will finish is 12-4. The Gamecocks lose tiebreakers to Georgia and Texas A&M and while they split the series with Kentucky, the next tiebreaker is record against the No. 1 seed (and then against the No. 2, and so on). USC lost to top seed Tennessee. Kentucky hasn't played the Lady Volunteers yet but if the Wildcats win that game this week, Kentucky would win the tiebreaker. If the Wildcats lose to Tennessee, the tiebreaker would go to record against the next-highest seeds, which would be Texas A&M and Georgia. Kentucky beat Texas A&M twice and lost to Georgia.

* If there was somehow a four-way tie at the end of the regular season between USC, Georgia, Texas A&M and Kentucky, the tiebreaker would be the best winning percentage in head-to-head games among the tied teams. USC went a combined 1-3 against the others. Kentucky was 3-1, Georgia was 2-1 and Texas A&M was 2-2.



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